A strange thing happened last week. I was “actively sought.” (There is another term for that, but I don’t like it, so I’m going with mine.)

I was approached about taking on a new role as executive director of a very worthy nonprofit organization. I suppose it is not exactly “strange.” I have been the ED for many nonprofit organizations, I have the skill set, I enjoy the work and I do the work well. Fate, however, sure chose a strange week to play that card.

The conversation came in the middle of the week before winter break. I am a teacher. Every teacher everywhere knows what the week before break is like. What’s more, it was a week that began with a snow delay, contained many subs in the building as people succumbed to the various germs that surround us, and ended with a full moon. Full moons are a thing. So, as I say, an interesting week to be offered a return to the world of nonprofits.

I will admit, I took a moment. The organization is one I have known and admired for a long time, the work is meaningful and has impact, the salary would be much more, my schedule would be my own once again, and – most tempting of all – it would mean moving back up the coast to where my family and friends all are. I miss walking into the coffee shop and knowing all the faces that turn to greet me.

So I had a moment, but perhaps most strange of all, it wasn’t more than that. A moment. Less than a full minute by my clock.

Because here’s what else happened last week.

I witnessed countless examples of my fellow educators going well above and beyond to ensure a student had what they needed, academically and emotionally. I saw seasoned veterans of the classroom tear up with joy when one of “their kids” from a past year experienced success. I saw custodians laughing in conversation with students in the hall. I saw an entire room of teachers break into applause when one related a recent accomplishment of a student – and then pivot to utter vulnerability as they all shared their questions about how to “teach better,” to reach the kids not yet thriving. This is big stuff.

Alexis de Tocqueville, when he toured our new and emerging nation, said that the backbone of a strong democracy is a strong public education system. He saw our schools, open and providing free education to everyone regardless of birth status or wealth, as the glimmer of hope that this strange new nation with its bold, radical ideas of democracy and equality, might actually make it.

How right he was.

Public education remains the truest expression of our nation’s ideals. Here students learn not only how to read and write and do arithmetic, but they learn about themselves as individuals within a collective where everyone has a seat at the table, everyone has a role to play. They learn they matter and they learn good citizenship. They also get a staggeringly great grounding in the fundamentals of learning.

Educators and students face challenges aplenty, but a greater dedication to a common cause I have never seen. My hat is off to my fellow educators, support staff and the families, all of whom understand that nurturing these emerging individuals is the most important work.

I am honored to be there with you.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected].